Eltham Primary School's new principal says the role feels like 'coming home'.
Rachel Watkins is no stranger to Eltham and says she has many fond memories of the town.
"Some of the memories that come to mind are the summers spent with my best friend riding to the Rawhitiroa Pools on our horses, and exploring Lake Rotokare, returning home after dusk. I have a lot of fond memories here."
In her first week on the job, Rachel says she has been welcomed graciously by the school and broader community.
"The staff have been kind, caring, absolutely wonderful. The school board is professional, supportive and communicative. The pupils are delightful, open and honest, always greeting me with a smile. They give pretty good hugs too.
"I feel so lucky to have been welcomed so graciously. I love the feel of the school. Everything is done with care, compassion and understanding, the children are at the centre of any and all decision making."
Rachel was born in Stratford and lived in and around the district for the first eight years of her life.
"I began my schooling at Rawhitiroa School. My parents were dairy farmers so we moved with the start of a new season when I was 7. I then attended Ngaere School. I'm pretty sure my time there helped to develop my love for singing and music, as I vividly recall afternoons of whole school singing in Mrs Ridley's class."
When she was 8 she moved to the west of Taranaki, attending Rahotu School and then starting her high school education at Ōpunake High School.
"From Opunake I went to Massey University where I gained a Bachelor of Education. My first job was teaching at Fraser Road Primary School in Normanby. I then taught at Westown Primary School, spending 10 years working alongside Mr Eddie Betts who gave me so many opportunities to grow as a teacher."
After having her two daughters Miah, 19, and Libby, 16, Rachel moved to Spotswood Primary School, where she spent the last 12 years teaching and learning alongside valued colleagues and friends Allan Day and Mark Fisher.
"I worked under two great principals, becoming a team leader, deputy principal and then acting principal for most of 2021. In the last five years, the core of my work was in the SENCO space where I supported pupils with additional educational needs and ensured their pastoral care needs were being met.
"I supported the students to engage in school and their learning, removing barriers to accessing education. I particularly loved doing my best to look after our staff, the kids and their families."
When the Eltham Primary School principal's position became available, she says she wasted no time in applying.
"Before winning the role I visited the school multiple times, making connections and developing my resolve to win the position. I took a risk and reached out to the wider Eltham School community, meeting with principals from schools around the area, staff at early childhood centres, as well as staff at Tūtaki and other agencies involved with the school."
Rachel says her transition into the role was seamless.
"I worked closely with acting principal Sonia Vind to ensure everything went smoothly, and it has. I cannot thank her enough for the hours of work she put into passing on her knowledge of our students and their families, as well as equipping me to be up to speed on what's on top."
Rachel says her immediate focus is on building relationships and strengthening her connections inside and outside of the school.
"Education has been a difficult space to be in, over the last three years. My goal is to work through that space and minimise the wide-reaching impacts of Covid-19 on our school community so that we can get back to the core business of teaching and learning.
"It has been my pleasure to meet so many members of our school community already and I really look forward to many more of these opportunities to connect."